At the Beginning...
Dogfighting has been around since the 1800's in some form, and maybe even earlier. But why?
The development of modern dogfighting that is found in Europe and North and South America can be clearly traced to 1835, when "bull-baiting" was banned in England. When the ban was created, the owners of "bulldogs”, which had been used to bait bulls, bears and other animals, began to pit dog against dog. The largest, heaviest bull dogs were soon crossed with smaller, quicker terriers to make the "bull terriers" who became the common breed today - pit bulls.
Not just any dog can be trained to fight. Many dogs are born with a temper, but most fights between two dogs, like in the park, usually end quickly, with one backing down.
To breed successful fighting dogs, that willingness to back down had to be eliminated. Fighting dogs continue to attack, regardless of the submission signals of an opponent. Similarly, these dogs will continue to fight even though badly injured. Gameness—a dog's willingness or desire to fight—is the most admired trait in fighting dogs.
Most law enforcement experts divide dogfight activity into three categories: street fighting, hobbyist fighting and professional activity:
- Street fighters engage in dog fights that are informal, street corner, back alley and playground activities. Stripped of the rules and formality of the traditional pit fight, these are spontaneous events triggered by insults, turf invasions or the simple taunt, "My dog can kill yours." Many of these participants lack even a semblance of respect for the animals they fight, forcing them to train while wearing heavy chains to build stamina, and picking street fights in which they could get seriously hurt. Many of the dogs are bred to be a threat not only to other dogs, but to people as well - with tragic consequences.
Street fights are frequently associated with gang activities. The fights may be conducted with money, drugs or bragging rights as the primary payoff. There is often no attempt to care for animals injured in the fight and police or animal control officers frequently encounter dead or dying animals in the aftermath of such fights. This activity is very difficult to respond to unless it is reported immediately. Professional fighters and hobbyists decry the techniques and results of these newcomers to the "blood sport."
- Hobbyist fighters are more organized, with one or more dogs participating in several organized fights a year as a sideline for both "entertainment" and to attempt to supplement income. They pay more attention to care and breeding of the dogs and are more likely to be traveling across state lines for events.
- Professional dog fighters often have large numbers of animals (often 50 or more) and earn money from breeding, selling and fighting dogs at a central location and on the road. They often pay particular attention to promoting established winning bloodlines and to long-term conditioning of animals. They regularly dispose of animals that are not successful fighters or breeders using a variety of methods, including shooting and blunt force trauma. Unlike professional dog fighters of the past, both professionals and hobbyists of today may dispose of dogs that are too human-aggressive for the pit by selling them to street fighters or others who are simply looking for an aggressive dog - thus contributing to the dog bite problem.
In recent years, a fourth category of dog fighters seems to be emerging, with some wealthier individuals from the sports and entertainment worlds allegedly using their financial resources to promote "professional" dog fighting enterprises, which essentially use the philosophy and training techniques usually associated with street fighting.
Why Do People Get Involved?
For a lot of people, it's about ego - breeding fighting dogs makes them feel tough. Some fighters liken dog fighting to boxing, and see the owner as coach and the dog as prize fighter.
While some might typify dog fighting as a symptom of urban decay, not every dog fighter is poor. There are people who promote or participate in dog fighting from every community and background. Licensed vets are often well paid to provide care for dogs at fights. Audiences contain lawyers, judges and teachers drawn in by the excitement and thrill. To them, dog fighting is not brutal, it is an art.
What’s Up With Dog Fighting Now?
Beyond the "traditional" fighting, now, more commonly, dog fights are informal street corner activities. These are spontaneous events triggered by insults, turf invasions or the simple taunt, "My dog can kill yours." Many of these participants lack any respect for the animals, forcing them to train wearing heavy chains to build stamina and picking street fights in which they could get seriously hurt. And many of the dogs are bred to be a threat not only to other dogs, but to people as well—with tragic consequences.
Humane societies and law enforcement officials have been fighting long and hard to put an end to dog fighting, but even after raids, arrests and jail time, people who fight are back in the ring. To get rid of dogfighting, experts in gangs, drug abuse, poverty, education and psychology, as well as law enforcement, are needed to understand and combat dog fighting at each level. Preventing today's youthful spectators from becoming tomorrow's dog fighters is the challenge the humane community faces for the future.